There was a time when Preston Hoebelheinrich had legs, but he says he can’t remember it.
The Northwestern freshman underwent a double amputation at the tender age of 6, when doctors discovered he had a life-threatening infection of bacterial meningitis.
Hoebelheinrich’s says his mother was first alarmed when she discovered unusual bruises covering her son’s body.
“She took off my jacket, and there were bruises all over my arms,”Hoebelheinrich said. “So she took off my shirt, and my chest was covered in bruises, too. Then she took off my pants, and my legs had even more bruises.”
Three hospitals later, Hoebelheinrich’s legs were amputated to prevent the severe infection from spreading, and he received prosthetic legs. Hoebelheinrich has since lost any recollection of his life before the surgery.
“It was like I was a newborn baby, but I was six years old. It was like I had just been born,” he said.
Suddenly confronted with a new reality, Hoebelheinrich struggled to cope as a child.
“I was pissed at God for a very, very, very long time,” Hoebelheinrich said. “I watched my younger brother learn to ride a bike before I could.”
In third grade, though, Hoebelheinrich’s life changed course. Spurred by the interest his younger brother and his mother’s boyfriend shared in wrestling, Hoebelheinrich took up the sport himself.
“My mom just wanted me to grow up normal.She was happy to see her son trying something a normal kid would do,” Hoebelheinrich said. “She was scared it wouldn’t work out, but she was happy.”
Contrary to his mother’s fears, Hoebelheinrich became an accomplished wrestler in high school. A three-time Iowa State Tournament qualifier, Hoebelheinrich served as a team captain and was an Academic All-Conference wrestler.
“When something like that happens, you ask why it’s happening,” Hoebelheinrich said. “It was definitely a God thing.”
Hoebelheinrich finished his senior season with a 38-9 record and a 124-51 career record. He was named his team’s MVP and his school’s Christian Athlete of the Year.
“I’m the type of guy who, when I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do whatever I can to fight for it,” Hoebelheinrich said.
Without the bottom half of his legs, Hoebelheinrich sometimes struggles to maintain balance during wrestling matches. His closeness to the ground, however, gives him a lower center of gravity, working to his advantage.
Hoebelheinrich’s shortened legs also allow him an unusual amount of upper body strength for his weight class.
Before every match, Hoebelheinrich removes his cross necklace and, before giving it to his coach for safekeeping, kisses it.
“If God saves you, it’s for something,” Hoebelheinrich said. “You’ve just got to trust that, and you’ll be happy you waited around for it.”
Hoebelheinrich is currently wrestling for NW in the 125-lb. weight class.